Cover Photo: Courtesy of Westminster School

Thinking of sending your kids to the UK for a British education? Unlike in America, Britain calls their private schools "public", whereas non-fee paying institutions are referred to as "state schools" or "comprehensives". Below, we've shortlisted some of the best British public schools with incredible educational standards and high-class facilities for you to consider:

1. Benenden School

Ages: 11-18

Registration: Three to four years before entry

No. of Pupils: 550

Admissions: School’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports; ISEB Common Entrance at age 13.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels, with a highly innovative, inquiry-based approach to learning. Benenden’s Professional Skills Programme, launched in 2016, teaches Sixth Formers essential business, financial and life skills, while the Benenden Diploma is a two-year bespoke curriculum for the Fourth and Upper Fourth. The curriculum is complemented by high-profile speakers and workshops held by expert guests.

Campus and facilities: Benenden occupies 100 hectares of beautiful parkland in the middle of Kent. Some of the impressive facilities include a state-of-the-art Science Centre, a 300-seat theatre, and a new all-weather sports pitch and pavilion.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Benenden was founded in 1923 and is regarded as one of the top all-girls’ schools in the country.

New: Making the most of its environment, the school has created a trim trail—a route around the site of outdoor exercise stations—as well as a re pit in the woods. A group of Sixth Formers established an eco-garden and orchard by creating raised beds out of recycled products, and also launched their first major science research project in collaboration with the Chemistry Department at University College London.

Benenden, Cranbrook, Kent;

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2. Charterhouse

Ages: 13-18

Registration: By August of the year before entry

No. of Pupils: 800

Curriculum: Under School: (I)GCSEs. Sixth Form: Pre-U, A-Levels or IB.

Campus and facilities: More than 400 years old, a sense of history pervades. The school features outstanding sports facilities including a golf course, tennis courts, hockey pitches and more.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: In 2019, over 90 per cent of the Cambridge Pre-U examinations taken by its Sixth Form students were given top grades.

New: Primarily a boys’ school, Charterhouse also accepts girls in the sixth form. However, starting in 2021, the school will be moving towards full co-education from the age of 13, welcoming girls into the Fourth Form (Year 9), with the aim of having girls in every year group from September 2023. The school roll will grow over the next decade from 800 today to around 1,000, with the increase representing additional places for girls. Alex Peterken was appointed headmaster at Charterhouse in January 2018, having previously been the headmaster at Cheltenham College. 

Godalming, Surrey;

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3. Eton College

Ages: 13-18

Registration: By age 10

No. of Pupils: 1,300

Admissions: A challenging Eton pre-test, plus interview and previous school reports; Common Entrance at age 13.

Curriculum: GCSE, A-Levels, and Pre-U examinations

Fees: Find out more here

Campus and facilities: School buildings are periodically modernised according to the school’s development programme. The flagship new facility, The Tony Little Centre for Innovation and Research in Learning, is dedicated to increased research in neuroscience, new apps and changing technologies. When it comes to sports, a number of pitches accommodate cricket, football, hockey and more, while a gymnasium features sports halls, rooms for weight training, fencing and martial arts, a climbing wall, and a 25m swimming pool.

Noteworthy: One of the most famous all-boys’ English public schools in the world, Eton College was founded in 1440 by Henry VI. Its alumni include Prince William and Prince Harry, as well as 19 British prime ministers. Eton is one of four remaining single-sex boys’ schools in Britain and emphasises high academic standards, with the success rate for entry into Oxbridge and other top UK universities astonishingly high.

New: The student body boasts a number of impressive wins across sports to other extracurricular activities, from placing first at the Oxford Union Schools Debating Competition—the largest secondary-level debating event in the country—to being selected for international hockey matches.

Eton, Berkshire (near Windsor);

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4. Gordonstoun

Ages: 13-18 for Senior School; 6-12 for Junior School

Registration: No deadline

No. of Pupils: 420 (Senior School); 115 (Junior School)

Admissions: School’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels. A Year 11 one-year GCSE programme launched in 2017, designed for students aged 15 or 16 who are not already in the English academic system. For those who wish to continue their education in the English system, this year will provide an excellent foundation for A-Levels in the Sixth Form.

Campus and facilities: Set within a safe and beautiful 80-hectare wooded campus, the school is within easy reach of international airports at Inverness and Aberdeen.

Fees: Find out more here (senior fees) and here (junior fees)

Noteworthy: This boarding school is known for its rigorously high standards and tough outdoor education programme. Prince Philip and Prince Charles were both educated here.

New: In 2017, Lisa Kerr became Gordonstoun’s first female principal and the first non-teacher to lead a Scottish independent school. Two new services—Combined Outdoor Service and Sports Service—have also been introduced. The former offers sailing, canoeing, kayaking, summer and winter climbing, orienteering, indoor climbing, and year- round hillwalking and mountaineering. The latter aims to support younger students from the local community with a training programme to improve their skills and abilities.

Elgin, Moray, Scotland;

5. Harrow School

Ages: 13-18

Registration: Year 9: by the end of Year 5 or by May 1 of Year 6. Year 12: September or October of Year 11. Late applicants: May 1 of Year 7.

No. of Pupils: 820

Admissions: Year 9: ISEB (Independent Schools Education Board) tests, Common Entrance exam and school’s own test plus interview and references. Year 12: tests in two of four chosen A-Levels during autumn term of Year 11, a subject test, reference, and school reports.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE and A-Level. The Shell year (Year 9) is a foundation year in which every boy studies a wide variety of subjects, as well as a choice of two languages.

Campus and facilities: Founded in in 1572, this all-boys, full-boarding school is one of the world’s most renowned. The school grounds cover 300 acres and include conservation areas, a golf course and a working farm.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: At A-Level in 2019, nearly one third of all grades were the highest possible, meaning that – for the third year in a row – the A* rate exceeded the School’s average since the grade was introduced in 2010. Harrow’s outgoing Fifth Form in 2019 also achieved the best GCSE results in the school’s history, with 64.5% of grades at 9, 8 or A*.

New: The Elective programme, which was introduced in 2017, has been extended in 2018 into the Fifth Form. Alongside their preparations for (I)GCSE, boys in that year group have been taking courses to raise political awareness, to introduce them to the principles of economics and develop skills of critical thinking through the analysis of current affairs.

Harrow on the Hill, Harrow, London;

6. The King’s School, Canterbury

Ages: 13-18

Registration: Two years before entry

No. of Pupils: 830

Admissions: School’s own exam, plus interview and previous school reports; Common Entrance at age 13.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels

Campus and facilities: The school is set across two main sites (the Precincts of Canterbury Cathedral and St Augustine’s) with 13 boarding houses and three day houses spread throughout. A new Science Centre—including seven new physics laboratories, a dedicated science research space, an auditorium, and refurbished biology and chemistry laboratories—is set to open by 2020.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: The school was founded in 597 CE and aims “to anchor a 21st-century education within the illustrious history of the oldest school in the country". Each school year culminates in the traditional King’s Week, a festival of music, drama, art, and sporting events.

New: The Malthouse building, located close to the main school campus, has been transformed into a Performing Arts Centre which opened in 2019. It features a 350-seat theatre with an orchestra pit, dance and drama studios, and dining facilities. In addition, the International College opened in 2018. Part of The King’s Family of Schools, it will educate international students aged 11-16, preparing them to enter a senior school in Years 9, 10 or 12.

The Precincts, Canterbury, Kent;

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7. Westminster School

Ages: 13-18 (boys only from 13-16; co-ed from 16-18)

Registration: Four years before entry at age 13; between June and the beginning of September the year before at age 16.

No. of Pupils: 740

Admissions: ISEB tests; Common Entrance exam or school’s own exam plus interview at age 13. The school’s own exam plus interview at age 16.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE, Pre-U, A-Levels

Campus and facilities: The school is situated in the heart of London in the precincts of Westminster Abbey, next to the Houses of Parliament and the Supreme Court. Facilities include a new Sports Hall, a newly renovated science centre, design and technology studios, a purpose-built theatre, and a music centre.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Westminster pupils have consistently achieved over 54.5% A* or equivalent in the last five years, making it the top performing academic school in Britain.

New: The Hooke Science Centre has been redeveloped to include new state-of-the-art laboratories, a computer science lab and an observatory. Westminster students are competing in the 2018 Mathematics, Chemistry, Linguistics and Informatics UK Olympiad teams. They also represented the UK in the final of the International Space Design Competition at NASA, Florida and won the World Universities Debating Final 2017.

Little Dean’s Yard, Great Smith Street, Westminster, London;

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8. Winchester College

Ages: 13-18

Registration: After age 8

No. of Pupils: 700

Admissions: School’s own exam in Year 8 or via interview in Year 6; does not use Common Entrance.

Curriculum: In 2008, Winchester abandoned the A-Level system to adopt the Cambridge Pre-U. All boys sit (I)GCSEs in at least two or three sciences, maths, English, Latin, French or German and usually three or four other subjects.

Campus and facilities: This all-boys school has more than 80 listed buildings—representing more than six centuries of continuous development— many of which are of national importance and all are in current use. There are extensive grounds of approximately 100 hectares, including 20 acres of playing fields and four acres of formal gardens. The school has an 18-hole golf course, and students are able to enjoy rowing on River Itchen.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: The school’s origins can be traced back to 1382. It has existed in its present location for more than 600 years, the longest unbroken history of any school in England.

New: A newly renovated state-of-the-art Sports Centre will be open for use in early 2022.

College Street, Winchester, Hampshire;

9. Wycombe Abbey 

Ages: 11-18

Registration: 15 months years before entry

No. of Pupils: 611

Admissions: Assessment Day and Common Entrance at ages 11 and 13; Assessment Day and school’s own exam at age 16.

Curriculum: GCSE and A-Levels

Campus and facilities: Wycombe Abbey is set on 170 acres of conservation-listed grounds. Modern, state-of-the-art facilities include the Sports Centre with a 25m indoor pool, the Performing Arts Centre with theatre and recital hall, dance and fitness studios, and extensive sports pitches. Last year, the school opened a new cafe, The Courtyard, catering to students and visitors.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: Wycombe Abbey is ranked amongst the top girls’ boarding school in the UK. Results are consistently impressive, with 97.6% of all GCSE entries graded A*-A. At A-Level, 80.6% were graded A*-A. at GCSE and A level for 2018/2019. One third of the students secure Oxbridge offers with the majority heading to Russell Group universities or prestigious Art, Drama or Music Schools.

New: Two new boarding houses opened in September 2017 as part of wider site development plan, which also includes a new STEM Centre, Sports Pavilion and China Centre, as well as the refurbishment of the remaining boarding houses.

High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire;

10. St Paul’s School

Ages: 7-18

Registration: Registration closes in early October the year before entry; boys are often registered at age 4.

No. of Pupils: 950

Admissions: ISEB tests; school’s own exams plus interview; references and recommendations for Year 6 and above.

Curriculum: (I)GCSE, Pre-U, A-Levels

Campus and facilities: St Paul’s occupies more than 17 hectares of Thames-side property. The campus is unique among London schools for the on-site facilities it offers, ranging from boat club to theatre, darkroom to cricket pitch and recital hall to design technology workshop.

Fees: Find out more here

Noteworthy: St Paul’s is a boys’ school that was founded in 1509. The original school, which stood in St Paul’s Churchyard, was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666 and has since been rebuilt twice. Almost a third of the school’s pupils go on to Oxbridge, and stellar exam results are a hallmark of the school.

New: The school is currently being rebuilt and expanded as part of a £150 million project, known as the Masterplan. Beginning in 2011, the work is scheduled to be carried out in phases over a period of 30 years. Its state-of-the-art science wing was opened in 2013 and the new Drama Centre and Samuel Pepys Theatre were completed in 2014. The majority of the senior school site has also been recently refurbished, including a new astro-turf pitch, a stunning Drama Centre, an RIBA award-winning Science building, and two General Teaching Buildings with contemporary dining, library and classroom facilities overlooking the Thames.

Lonsdale Road, Barnes, London;

This article was originally published on May 23, 2018 and updated on July 22, 2020.

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